Drinking water in many of China's rural areas is unhealthy, with 44.36 percent failing to meet government standards, a Ministry of Health spokesman said in Beijing on Monday.
"The condition of drinking water in rural areas still has a long way to go to improve health conditions and living quality for rural people," Mao Qunan told a regular press conference.
"The health conditions of the drinking water and sanitary conditions for rural people still need improvement."
The figures came from a national survey conducted jointly by the Ministry of Health and the National Committee for the Patriotic Public Health Campaign -- the first investigation into drinking water and sanitation conditions in rural areas.
Mao said unhealthy water led to outbreaks of diarrhoea and other diseases, with 40.44 percent of surface water and 45.94 percent of ground water below the regulatory standards released in 2006.
He said in the countryside, 74.87 percent of people drank water from underground sources, while the rest drank surface water. He blamed unhealthy water on microbial contamination.
"Most people living in rural areas do not have their drinking water sterilized. Often they just drink the well water, which may have been polluted," the spokesman said.
Sanitation was somewhat better in more densely populated areas, with 85.23 percent of people living in villages or counties often having their water boiled before drinking. This practice lowered the chance of contracting a serious enteric infectious disease, Mao added.
The survey, from August 2006 to November 2007, collected nearly 7,000 samples from 65,839 homes in 6,590 villages, covering 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.
Besides water, the survey covered rural environmental sanitation conditions. The results were not encouraging.
It found that a lack of sanitary toilets had caused great inconvenience in rural areas, where only 23.83 percent of rural families built sanitary toilets (those with special disinfecting facilities). In such areas, most toilets were self-constructed, being built inside or outside the courtyard.
Even worse, 90.04 percent of people used manure from these insanitary toilets as fertilizer. "Using untreated manure as fertilizer will increase the risk of diseases spreading and devastate the health environment of rural areas," Mao noted.
He added the daily garbage volume per capita in rural areas had reached 0.86 kilograms, and the annual garbage volume of all rural areas across the country had approached 300 million tons. Much of this refuse was disposed of randomly, something that caused serious pollution.
Mao said China was investing 336 million yuan (46.86 million U.S. dollars) this year to help local authorities build more sanitary toilets and set up water quality supervision networks in rural areas.
"It has been proven that providing healthy and safe drinking water and making a healthy environment are the most effective way to reduce diseases and promote human health conditions."
Mao added that in the past three years China had invested 482 million yuan in impoverished rural areas to help build toilets and in making investigations on local areas' water quality.
"To better solve the issue, China will continue to emphasize on the improvement work of water-quality supervision systems."
(Xinhua News Agency February 19, 2008)